How Can We Help In Times Of Discomfort?

The advent of this holiday season has brought a fair amount of discomfort for my family. My kids see family photo time as a reminder that their mom is celebrating the holiday somewhere else. My parents see their child and grandkids trying to make the best of who is and isn’t there around the table to eat and sometimes step on toes…trying to help. Everyone who isn’t there want to know how I’m doing, constantly.

I see everyone around me uncomfortable as I deal with my own feelings like I’m the eye of a storm of change. Paralyzed by all that is around me, and yet doing everything I can to be present for all of them equally.

What we do for teams, clients, and leaders can often feel similar.

Change brings discomfort, and people handle it differently. Some may run hard in the opposite direction; unwilling to relent to that which they know is needed. Others retreat within themselves as a victim to the tide of emotions that change brings. Those reaction, and many others are the result of an inability to be present in the moment as you reconcile being uncomfortable.

Regardless of your ability to navigate these feelings, or strength of resolve to assist in the transition for others, we do have tools at our disposal. When others look to you in times of change discomfort, here are some things I’m using in my life today.

Acknowledge where you are in the journey.

The rise of mindfulness and emotional intelligence in our work has allowed me to be more aware now than ever before. While I miss obvious things from time to time, I am thankful that I see so much in people daily. The story of my family this holiday season flooded my senses for four days straight.

Which would be fine if I’m a robot without my own discomfort to deal with, but alas I am still human.

To truly be present for those around me in moments like this, it’s imperative for me to acknowledge I have a place in the story happening around me. If I don’t allow myself to be uncomfortable along with them, I am unable to be connected on a deeper level. Reaching that together allows stronger bonds to be formed.

This practice may seem easier to do with family than colleagues or clients (or easier depending on what kind of family situation you have). Some companies have so much going on behind the scenes that true connection during times of discomfort may be a challenge. Deep connection to teams start with understanding where you are on the journey.

Team norms are an excellent opportunity to allow these bonds to naturally start forming. We can write success stories, draw personal maps, or create a unified vision of the next release. Alone, they may not seem like much…but you’re spending time understanding yourself and facilitating their ability to do the same.

Wear their shoes as best you can.

It’s easy to critique companies and clients for the poor decisions they made, in retrospect. Calling the items out as failures creates a blame culture, and sets teams up for doing more of the same once you roll off and their project stalls. We all knew that was a horrible idea, right?

Unfortunately, no leader or company makes decisions this way. Never have. Never will.

My good friend Allison taught me long ago that nobody likes a consultant or new hire to come in trashing the old ways. Failed initiatives or products were simply what happens when you made the best choice available to you at the time, but didn’t work out for a variety of reasons. Once you align yourself with them in that respect, it’s easier to believe they did their best and want to improve.

Interviews are crucial to wearing the shoes of those you want to help. The hope in their voice when they described an architectural decision. The frustration when they thought the data was strong for this product launch. The fear in their job stability due to a production outage on Black Friday.

My college journalism professors would be so proud to know that I still sit down with a notebook and ask people to tell me a story. Try asking a few open ended questions with those around you and be present with whatever comes.

Don’t lead them, ask if you can join them.

This was super hard for me earlier in my career, and it can still be one at times. I’m kind of a “take charge” kind of person and have no problem stepping out there when someone needs to. Far too often, though, I stomped off in a direction only to see nobody is following me.

They didn’t ask me to lead them, after all. I just showed up and started barking orders.

The humility that comes from realizing you made an ass out of yourself, is a powerful teacher. It’s not uncommon though, in many corporate structures. New managers, directors and VPs do the same every day.Without providing any context or vision, the act of giving direction often leaves those around you confused and misaligned.

Confused and misaligned people tend to not follow you down dark alleys. Instead, consider the path everyone needs to go as an opportunity to travel together.

The leaders I have most wanted to follow have sat and written our story together. I was free to toss out ideas without fear of reproach. They pitched me vision, instead of dictating it, and asked for my honest feedback. If I had something concrete that warranted altering the direction, it was thoughtfully considered and added in.

Great leaders get me where I need to be without making me feel like I have a bridle in my mouth. They walked beside, communicating with me the whole way.

This isn’t enough.

Doing these things won’t make times of discomfort completely palatable by along shot. Change is too hard for it to be easy. It can make those tough moments easier to handle, which is what we are there for anyway.


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